No More Pretending by Bette Hawkins is an entertaining and charming contemporary romance that tells the story of outgoing, confident, and straight film actress Lauren Langham and small town diner waitress Harper Ward. But in this nicely-written debut novel, things aren’t always as they appear on the surface.
Lauren has come to the quaint little town in Texas to shoot her current movie, another in a long string of romantic comedies for which she’s become famous. Harper has returned to her hometown from New York City, leaving her law career behind for the time being, to take care of her father and younger brother after her mother’s death from cancer. Their first meeting in the diner where Harper works, while establishing an undeniable physical attraction to one another, leaves Harper with a less-than-good impression of the movie star and Lauren with yet another reminder of how overwhelming her shyness can be. Her acting career has helped, but she can still find herself completely tongue-tied when caught off guard. When the director of Lauren’s movie hires Harper as his assistant, Harper and Lauren are forced to interact and find they have more in common than either would have guessed. Both are living their lives by the decisions and circumstances of others, Lauren on the advice of her agent, manager, and publicist and Harper under the responsibilities she feels for her family.
When they start getting to know one another authentically, their attraction flames into passion, and they find something neither has ever experienced before. But when the movie shoot ends and it’s time for Lauren to leave, is there any way their love can survive?
Both Lauren and Harper are likable characters, and their behavior and interaction with one another is believable and fits with their personalities, circumstances, and back stories. There isn’t much information about Harper’s past intimate relationships, which is unusual in a romance novel, but the obstacles keeping her from being all in with Lauren have less to do with that and more to do with her current situation—never mind the reality of whom she falls in love with. I mean, if I fell in love with a gorgeous, rich, and famous movie star who was in town for only three months for a shoot, I think I’d probably assume the relationship would come to an end with the filming as well.
I found Lauren’s character arc to be the stronger of the two in that what she has to overcome in order to be with Harper forces her to face some fears and make some big changes in her life. After years of listening to the advice of her agent, manager, and publicist and staying closeted, keeping away from any real relationships, and taking roles she doesn’t want, she has to take a real stand for herself and her goals. Harper changes as well, but hers came more as a result of a shift in her family obligations based on those around her.
And then there’s Chester. A book can always win me over with a lovable dog. Had it not been for Chester running away from Lauren and leaping into Harper’s lap in the park, these two sad sacks might still be sitting alone, waiting for their Princess Charmings to show up at the door. Sheesh, how does anyone ever get along without a dog?
The Writing Style
No More Pretending is written in third person intimate, limiting the point of view to only the two leads, but staying with each for long enough to give the reader a deep feel for the character. I like this point of view, and it worked well for this story. I also enjoyed the pacing of the book. It’s a nice slow burn romance with good sexual tension.
I particularly like Lauren. She’s a little flawed in the beginning, which isn’t surprising considering a character needs room to grow and change, and she comes on strong at the end. There’s also something vulnerable about Lauren that touched me, even though on the surface, she makes a point of looking like she has it all.
And as I mentioned, there’s Chester.
In addition, I love the feel of the little town most of the book takes place in. It’s never named, and much of the story is centered around the movie set, but the scenes in which either or both characters are walking around the town or out by the lake gave me such a sweet sense of ease and relaxation. I also love Lauren’s cottage. I want to live there.
I don’t know if this is really a con, but there’s a situation in Lauren’s past, when she was blackmailed by a woman she was briefly involved with, that I think had it been explored and developed more, it could have strengthened Lauren’s emotional presence in the book and in the conflict between her and Harper. It’s addressed and even plays a part in one scene, but then even in the resolution of that scene, it seems like it’s just dropped, whereas I think it could have been really powerful had it been more developed. Still, a very good book.
No More Pretending is a lovely debut novel that I enjoyed. The fun thing about discovering an author through her debut is that you get to watch her grow as a writer, and I look forward to that with Ms. Hawkins. That said, I have it on good authority that we can expect a positive review of Hawkins’s second book, Like a Book—now also available everywhere—shortly from Tara. I happily recommend No More Pretending to romance readers and invite you to join me in keeping an eye on this author.
Excerpt from No More Pretending by Bette Hawkins
Now that she was thinking about Lauren, she looked up the app she’d downloaded in an attempt to learn a bit more about movies. She had looked up Sal’s entry so far, but nothing else. She wanted to jog her memory about that movie she had seen so long ago, the one she thought about when she found out who Lauren was. Harper typed in Lauren’s name to bring up her filmography. The movie was Edge of the Sea She recognized the name now that she saw it, and more details came flooding back.
When she looked up the blurb, Harper noticed that Lauren had her only co-writing credit on the film. When Harper looked through the list of movies she had done, it looked as though Lauren’s career had changed course not long after that movie came out. There was a string of fluffy-looking titles right after it, names that she vaguely recognized. She wondered why Lauren had never written anything else.
Harper was still browsing the list of credits when Sal called her to his office. Distractedly, he handed her a page of notes to deliver to the wardrobe designer, Sherri. Sal had assistant directors who were often out at various locations, so running around to deliver instructions sometimes fell to her. By now Harper
had learned her way around, so she easily located the wardrobe department. When she stepped inside, she looked around at racks and racks of clothing and mannequins, taking a moment to find the main floor where Sherri was working.
“Hey guys,” Harper said, feeling a twinge of guilt when she realized the person she had just been stalking via her filmography was in the room with Sherri. Lauren was standing on a raised block while Sherri kneeled at her feet.
“Hey Harper,” Sherri said warmly, taking pins out of her mouth to speak. They had met a couple of times, and Harper really liked Sherri. She was a warm older woman, who always looked stylish in an eccentric way.
Harper started to smile back at her but stopped when she glanced behind Sherri and met Lauren’s eyes. Lauren was standing with her arms crossed over her chest. Harper just now realized that she was clad only in a skirt and black bra. Harper also noticed, with a flush of embarrassment, just how perfect Lauren’s body was.
When she glanced back up at Lauren’s face, she saw that it was red, and Harper wasn’t sure whether it was due to anger or embarrassment. “I’m sorry,” Harper said.
“It would be great if you could knock before you come in,” Lauren said, more gently than Harper expected.
“Of course, I’ll do that in future,” Harper said, trying to sound diligent and eager to please, like this was just another direction that someone had given her.
What was she supposed to do now? Lauren’s green eyes never left hers. She realized they’d never made eye contact for such a long time, though they had come close that first day in the diner. She was used to Lauren’s gaze slipping away, like her eyes didn’t know what to catch on.
This was different. It felt like it was only the two of them in the room. There was something in the way that Lauren stared at her that made her feel like she was exposed too.
“Um, can I…” she said, flailing and shifting her focus to Sherri. It seemed wise to put her energy into not looking at Lauren at all.
“Oh sure, hon, just put them on the floor over here,” Sherri said. Harper nodded and set the papers down, aware of Lauren’s gaze following her the whole time.
“Thanks, sweetie,” Sherri said, oblivious to the undercurrent in the room.
Harper walked out knowing that she was only going to be more uneasy around Lauren from now on. It made her feel strange, that she had felt that powerful of an attraction toward someone she neither liked nor respected. It was as though something were happening between them, like Lauren had known what she was thinking. She had noticed the curve of Lauren’s breasts, and the way her body tapered in at the waist.
Harper tried to put the thoughts out of her head. Lauren wasn’t a mind reader, and in fact probably was too self-absorbed to give much thought to her at all.
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Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781594935442
- Publisher: Bella Books
Bette Hawkins Online
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